Better and cheaper batteries will be one of the key enabling technologies for the clean, distributed energy system of the future. More specifically, they are a critical component of Teslaâ€™s master plan to produce an affordable mass-market EV.
The Seers of Silicon Valley added a big name to their stable of battery boffins this week, signing a 5-year exclusive partnership with Jeff Dahn, a prominent battery researcher and professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.
Dahn was in the battery headlines in April, as chemical colossi BASF and 3M squared off for a court battle that could have important implications for next-gen EVs. The case centers around two competing patents for the cathode material nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC), one filed by the Argonne National Laboratory, and the other filed by 3M for Mr. Dahnâ€™s work. NMC is used in the Chevy Voltâ€™s battery pack, and may also be a key material in the coming generation of 200-mile EVs.
Dahn will begin his exclusive partnership with Tesla in June 2016, after finishing his current work with 3M. Tesla will support Dahnâ€™s team of about 20 graduate students, technical staff and post-docs for at least five years.
Dahn and his team will work to increase both the energy density and the lifetime of lithium-ion cells. In an interview with Fortune, Dahn explained that itâ€™s theoretically easy to increase energy density in a lithium-ion cell simply by charging it to a higher voltage. â€œThe problem is when you do that, the lifetime is compromised. So itâ€™s always a trade-off between lifetime and energy density.â€
Dan said he will continue to focus on lithium-ion batteries, and not on the more exotic variants being pursued by some researchers, such as lithium-air or lithium-sulfur.
Teslaâ€™s Gigafactory was what inspired Dahn to hook up with the company. â€œI thought, â€˜This is fantastic, Iâ€™ve got to be a part of this somehow,â€™â€ Dahn said when he learned about plans for the cutting-edge battery manufacturing facility.